Thinking ‘Out Of the Box’ on Public Communications

The NRC is constantly challenging itself to enhance its dialogue with members of the public. A case in point is the webinar NRC’s Region III held this week to inform the public about the results of a special inspection at Palisades, which looked into a leak from a control rod drive mechanism in August.

We recognized that this issue is of high interest to the public and looked for an effective vehicle to talk to the public before the official inspection results are issued in mid-October. In addition, we wanted to provide participation opportunities beyond the plant’s home state of Michigan since the interest in this issue goes far beyond state borders. The regional office chose a webinar to meet our goals even though it’s not been used before to talk about a special inspection at a plant.

About 70 people participated in this hour-long public meeting that consisted of two parts – the presentation from the NRC staff and answering questions from the public.

The webinar was held in addition to three public meetings we conducted this year near the plant after work hours to make it convenient for the community. Even though two of these meetings were not required by the NRC process, we went above and beyond our requirements in response to the public’s concerns about the plant’s performance in 2012. We plan to have another public meeting in November to talk about the most recent plant performance reviews.

We are also going beyond what’s required in terms of communicating publically on issues at Palisades that don’t trigger a public notification threshold. Such was the case with a notification Region III issued on September 25 about an essential service water leak. We issued this public announcement in response to requests during public meetings this year to keep people informed about leaks at the plant that don’t represent an immediate safety concern.

Thinking out of the box on public communication led us to raise the bar on transparency in dealing with Palisades. We started generating summaries of significant phone conversations between NRC and Entergy staff and making them publically available on the NRC’s website. The first such summary is associated with this special inspection and can be viewed at under MI12243A519.

Our communications initiatives at Palisades reflect the interest of the NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane in better, broader communication with the public and are clear evidence of our commitment to keeping the public informed every step of the way about issues at plants with performance challenges.

Viktoria Mitlyng
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region III

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

7 thoughts on “Thinking ‘Out Of the Box’ on Public Communications”

  1. This comment has a lot of misinformation in it with regard to the technical condition of these plants and the accident mitigation technologies they use.

  2. Mr. Rakovan, You may not have actually read the link that Joffan posted. The link in fact demonstrates that the protestors at the Vermont hearing did interfere with the ability of others — namely citizens there to support nuclear energy — to provide input. The fact that the police determined that the NRC representatives had to be escorted from the room for their own safety suggests that the politics of intimidation outweighed any facilitation training provided to NRC staff. I would suggest that clearly establishing the standards of behavior for participants at a public hearing — and adhering to those standards for all participants — would be a more productive exercise in the future if in fact the ability of people ‘to express themselves’ is truly valued.

  3. The NRC’s strategy is to allow members of the public to express themselves at meetings provided their actions do not interfere with others’ ability to provide input. This concept is included in the training received by members of the NRC’s In-House Meeting Facilitator & Advisor Program, a group of NRC staff trained and experienced at facilitating meetings, and is practiced by NRC staff in general. A certain amount of passion on the part of meeting participants can certainly be expected given the highly personal issues that are addressed at some of our meetings. It can be challenging to make the determination as to when participants are simply expressing their views or whether they have crossed a behavioral line of some sort. Regardless of how a meeting goes, however, NRC staff always stand ready to discuss issues one-on-one with concerned citizens.

    Lance Rakovan
    Meeting Facilitator Coordinator

  4. Joffan Many of those that have had a hard time gaining access to the NRC decision makers, feel that what has happened in the past is a farce (To use your wording)…

  5. Communication is great but both sides need equal representation at the “table”, which is something that has not be addressed ASAO…

    Here is a current case in point: Posting by San Clemente Green:
    Press Release
    San Clemente Green represents over 1700 citizens who are deeply troubled by the fact that Edison has now submitted their response to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Confirmatory Action Letter (CAL). The clock is now ticking for the NRC to decide if Edison should be allowed to restart one of its seriously flawed reactors.

    One of the conditions under which Edison proposes to restart Unit 2 claims to have improved detection devices in order to catch any leaks that might occur more quickly. That is of little comfort to those living nearby. It is well documented that this equipment has been self destructing over the past year or so due to excessive vibration. This caused a level of degradation that would only be expected after operating for twenty years or more. Tubes that keep radiation from getting into our environment have been weakened, making them vulnerable to bursting and causing a cascading effect that may not be stoppable in time to protect the public.

    Donna Gilmore from San Onofre Safety (SOS) says, “Edison’s plan to restart Unit 2 safely is to watch for radiation leaks. That’s not a safety plan. That’s a nuclear experiment in our community. Restarting San Onofre with the the most defective steam generators in the nation
    is a recipe for nuclear disaster. We just went nine months without nuclear power and our electricity grid operator has plans to get us through next summer. Why take the risk for energy we don’t need?”

    What is also of great concern to the public is that the NRC and Edison are claiming that it is not necessary to go through a License Amendment hearing. This thorough scientific investigation would include truly independent nuclear experts, not just steam generator manufacturers that Edison uses as consultants. These outside experts would be allowed to review all data available, submit their own conclusions for consideration, and give them a chance to cross examine industry experts in a publicly transparent judicial hearing in which testimony is given under oath. Instead, the public is expected to blindly trust the decision making ability of those who created this situation in the first place.

    Gary Headrick, Co-Founder of San Clemente Green said, “We are anxious to understand the motivation behind avoiding such an investigation by those who are charged with protecting the public’s safety, not the interests of the nuclear industry. Are they afraid of having to take some responsibility for whatever might be discovered in this investigation? The legality of the NRC’s decision to skip this process when it should have been done when the new steam generators were first approved is still in question. But if the decision to restart one of these dangerous reactors is approved without benefit of the License Amendment investigation, that would be criminal, even immoral.”

    This matter will be the central focus of the NRC meeting scheduled for October 9th, 5:30 p.m. at the St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point. The original intent was to have a roundtable discussion between the NRC, Edison and 4 individuals representing citizen’s concerned about public safety. Instead, the NRC has recently decided to include 8 more nuclear industry advocates, creating a gross imbalance on the panel. Gary Headrick said, “The NRC has turned this event into a lopsided debate disguised as an attempt to be more open to public scrutiny. After a month of sincere negotiations with the NRC regarding the format of this meeting, they have once again demonstrated their loyalty to the nuclear industry. I am deeply disappointed, but I am all the more determined to use this opportunity to raise the public’s awareness about the real dangers that exist at San Onofre”.

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